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Thank you to everyone that has taken the time to read, review, favorite and alert our stories here on this site. We truly enjoy hearing from each one of you. Also, please check out our "M" stories at The Writers Coffee Shop (TWCS). If anyone needs a link or direction to the new site, please feel free to contact us through either a private message or while leaving a review and we'll make sure to get back to you. Each former "M" story is getting an overhaul as we publish it AND there are new stories being added all the time there as well. Again, we'll be happy to answer any questions you have. As always, we own nothing other than our plots and original characters. Now, on with the story…
There were very few times in life that she could remember ever truly feeling desperate. Erin Strauss prided herself on her skill at bringing organization to any situation, applying herself to whatever task she tackled with a single-minded determination. She seldom failed and she never gave up on her goal.
But, as she finally made it into the relative safety of her office Monday morning, she realized that she might well be in over her head this time. It was barely 9 AM, and she'd already been late to one meeting, endured a bracing teddy bear tug of war and had a run in her silky pantyhose. And it was the tear in her hose had come precariously close to sending her over the edge.
The week was off to a rip-roaring start.
And all this stress had originated because of one single sheet of paper, delivered before Noah had even emerged from his bed this morning.
Closing her eyes a moment as she reminded herself once more that the law was on her side, Erin couldn't help the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. While she might maintain a court order granting her custody of her grandson, the person who'd sent her the message had something even more powerful in the arsenal.
All right, she told herself sternly, the key was to focus on her priorities. Right now, that meant finding a suitable sitter for Noah while she met with their unexpected guest this evening. Tapping one finger against her desk as she mentally reviewed her limited options, she grimaced as she comprehended that there was really only one person she could turn to at the moment.
And asking him for a favor? It was tantamount to willingly volunteering for a colonoscopy and about as appealing as remaining conscious for the procedure.
In short, her options sucked.
Silently resigned that her choice was necessary, Erin reached for the phone on her desk, dialing David Rossi's extension with hesitation. "David?" she said when she heard his gruff greeting.
One floor up, David Rossi sat behind his massive desk and grimaced. "Look, Cruella, if you're calling to bitch about my absence at this morning's meeting, maybe you shouldn't schedule them for seven am," he began irritably.
"David, shut up," Erin huffed, barely resisting the urge to bang the phone receiver against the edge of her desk. "I canceled this morning's meeting. Check your email once every decade," she ordered.
Raising an eyebrow as he jabbed at his computer keyboard, clicking open the most recent email from her, he relaxed. "Oh," he grunted simply. "What'd you want then?" he asked curiously. "And if it's my agreement to mentor those kids from Georgetown," he growled, remembering their conversation from Friday, "the answer is still a resounding no."
"You do realize that you work for me, don't you?" Erin replied caustically, her hackles rising. Since Christmas, she and the older profiler had fallen into an uneasy truce of sorts. Not quite friends, they both cared about Noah and Rossi had made an effort to reach out to the young boy. For that, she was grateful. All other aspects of their relationship, however, had remained largely unchanged. He still thought she was an uptight bitch, and she still thought he was one of the most arrogant asses on the planet.
Their common ground was Noah. That's what she needed to concentrate on at the moment.
"Yeah, babe, if that's what you need to tell yourself," Dave retorted snidely. "Did you call for a reason or did you just wanna get a head start on pissing me off for the week?"
"I need help, David," Erin said quietly.
Barking out a laugh, Dave grinned as he tapped his Mont Blanc pen against his desk. "Tell me something I wasn't already aware of, Dragon Lady," he teased. If he was entirely honest with himself, he enjoyed these sparring matches with the icy blonde upstairs more than he wanted to admit. The memory of their shared kiss Christmas Eve still taunted him in the dark of night, and these exchanges always served to remind him why becoming a "they" would never be possible between them.
"I'm serious," Erin replied tensely. "David, I received communication from Noah's biological father this morning. That's the reason I canceled the meeting. He wants to see him."
Dropping the pen to his desk, Dave stiffened in his chair, straightening as he pressed the phone to his ear. "I'll see you in five minutes," he replied solemnly, dropping the phone back into the cradle on his desk.
Hanging up as the phone disconnected abruptly, Erin allowed herself to begin breathing again. While the elder profiler's feeling for her might be mercurial in nature, she knew that what he felt for her grandson was an entirely different matter. He might have spent years nurturing animosity for her, but that didn't extend to the child.
Looking up in surprise less than two minutes later, she winced as she heard a sharp report against her door an instant before it opened and bounced off the wall. David's eyes were furious as he stared across the room, meeting hers.
"Tell me you told the prick to take a hike," he demanded, slamming the door closed behind him.
"Erin, he signed a paper giving up his right to any say in Noah's care and wellbeing. He has no fucking place in that kid's life! He bailed. He forfeited any kind of parental input when he slapped his John Hancock on a legally binding document!" Dave growled.
"You know that if he chooses to pursue this in court that I could very well lose. Judges favor biological parents," Erin whispered, her fingers clenching tightly in her lap.
"You are a biological parent once removed," Dave snarled, pacing in front of her desk, his steps literally hammering against the carpet. "Don't tell me that you're thinking about listening to what the guy has to say," he bit out, shaking his head.
"Isn't it better to hear him out now and see what exactly he wants, David?" Erin asked softly, raising her eyes to meet his for a bare second. "I'd rather do that than be caught off my guard."
"He's just starting to come out of his shell, Erin," Dave returned sharply, shaking his head. "Throwing this guy back into his life again could set Noah back months."
"You think I don't realize that?" Erin snapped. "I've been there for every single one of his nightmares, David! I'm the one that's dried his tears and made him promises and rocked him back to sleep. But the fact remains that his actual father never abused him in any fashion."
"Other than ignoring his existence, you mean," Dave snorted, rolling his eyes.
"I'm not giving him back without a fight," Erin said, her voice firm and resolved.
"You aren't giving him back at all," Dave corrected her, his voice deadly as he came to a halt directly iin front of her desk. "Maybe that guy didn't lay a finger on that kid, but he's equally responsible for anything that's happened to him."
"Agreed," Erin said softly with a slow nod.
"Well, that's something, at least," Dave grumbled, finally sitting down in front of Erin's desk. "What's the plan and how can I help?"